Pajapati Gotami, Founder of the Order of Nuns
Gotami was the Buddha's foster mother as well as his maternal
aunt. King Suddodhana married both sisters Maya and younger
sister Gotami. When queen Maha Maya died on the 7th day of the
birth of Prince Siddattha her younger sister from that day became
the queen and foster mother of the prince.
miserably and lonely when Prince Siddhartha, Rahula his son
and her own son Nanda renounced the worldly life for the higher
life by entering the Noble Order. King Suddhodana also had passed
away on attaining Arahatship. Ordination was now foremost in
the Buddha on his visit to Kapilavathu and asked for the boon
of forming the Order of the Nuns. But three times the Buddha
turned down the request. She was dejected and returned home.
Soon 500 maidens gathered round her. They too, felt the urge
either through bereavement or following their beloved kith and
kin to seek ordination.
So she determined
to make amends. She shaved her hair and donned the yellow robe.
Her 500 followers followed her example. Kapilavastu was separated
from Jetavana monastery by a distance of 357 miles. She covered
the distance with her followers by foot although various chieftains
and lords placed chariots at their disposal. The dusty roads
in those days were quite unlike the roads of the present day.
There were no pavements or sealed surfaces. The gentle feet
of Maha Pajapati Gotami were unused to such rough conditions.
At the end of the journey they were thoroughly exhausted and
travel-worn. The march caused a great stir in the district through
which they passed. Such a walk attracted attention and soon
the crowds lined the route. She felt that in the circumstances
it was not fitting that she should court a refusal by the Buddha.
So she and her 500 companions lingered at the entrance of Jetavana
monastery when to their great good fortune Venerable Ananda
appeared. He was amazed to see his aunt in such a sorry state.
He inquired whether any calamity had befallen the royal house
of the Sakyans or whether there was a revolt. She assured him
there was nothing of the kind but told him the purpose of her
mission. Venerable Ananda was eminently fit to play the role
of a mediator. Again and again Venerable Ananda entreated the
Lord but only to be refused.
Venerable Ananda asked whether it was not possible for a woman
to attain the bliss of sainthood. The Buddha responded by saying
that a woman could attain as well as a man and then consented
to the establishment of the Order for Nuns, but only on eight
the 8 conditions:
1. A Bhikkuni
even if she was in the Order for 100 years must respect a Bhikkhu
even of a day's standing.
2. A Bhikkuni
should reside within 6 hours of travelling distance to and from
the monastery where Bhikkhus reside for advice.
3. On Observance
days a Bhikkhuni should consult the Bhikkhus.
4. A Bhikkhuni
should spend the Vassa (rains retreat) under the orders of both
Bhikhus and Bhikkhunis.
5. A Bhikkhuni
should ply her life by both the orders.
6. A Bhikkhuni
should on two years obtain the higher ordination (Upasampatha)
by both Orders.
7. A Bhikkhuni
cannot scold a Bhikkhu.
8. A Bhikkhuni
cannot advise a Bhikkhu rather it should be the other way about.
Ananda broached the news to Maha Pajapati Gotami she was glad.
She wholeheartedly accepted the conditions laid down by the
Buddha. She was true to her destiny, as not long afterwards
she became an Arahant. So likewise did her companions on listening
to the discourse called the Nandakovada Sutta by the Buddha.
The King of Lichchavis built a residence for her and her followers
the Buddha accompanied by eighty Maha Arahants and a huge concourse
of Bhikkhus visited Pinnacle Hall in the city of Vesali.
a sight Venerable Maha Pajapati Gotami was exceedingly glad.
The disciples were fully worthy of the Lord as he was of them.
She saw that Anna Kondanna, Sariputta, Mogallana, Khema, Uppalawanna,
Nanda, Rahula and his mother Yasodhara (Bimba Devi) were to
predecease the Lord. She was determined not to tarry but that
she should be the first to go. Although she was 120 years old
yet signs of old age were not visible. Her hair and teeth resemble
those of a girl of 16 years. At the moment of her resolution
of obtaining Parinibbana the earth trembled and quaked. The
thunder in the sky rent the air. Her companion's likewise sought
her companions proceeded to meet the Lord. Compliments were
exchanged. Although from the 7th day the prince was reared by
her the Buddha amply repaid the debt due to her by her ordination.
She gave a graphic picture of the infancy of Prince Siddhartha.
How she has fed and bathed the prince.
In the meantime
people from far and near flocked to the scene as the news spread.
Diverse deities came. Visva Kamma deity who by his psychic power
came to the rescue to provide much needed accommodation.
requested Venerable Maha Pajapati Gotami to clear doubts about
her sainthood. Then she paid tribute by performing many miraculous
acts and all present including the Maha Arahants marvelled.
her companions underwent the great release Parinirvana.
At last the cremation came to pass. The Lichchavi Princes brought
sandalwood for the funeral pyre and the caskets containing the
remains were made ready. The whole sky was overcast with the
heavenly host during the day. The stars and the moon shone brilliantly
overhead as night followed. People laid carpets and the deities
held a canopy overhead. It was a unique ceremony the Buddha
and the Maha Arahants graced, so the pyre was lit and only the
relics of Venerable Maha Pajapati Gotami remained like pearls
and those of others vanished from the scene. These relics were
placed in the Buddha's bowl and given to him. The Buddha extolled
the virtues of this great Arahant. He himself had ordained her
and been her teacher and this was said to dispel any doubts.
had a stupa built by the Lichavi Prince and the relics enshrined
and the Buddha Himself joined the funeral procession. This was
a unique honour paid by the Tathagata.
addressing the Monks and laity declared that Venerable Maha
Pajapati Gotami was foremost in attainments among the female
Maha Arahants of the Noble Order.